So you want to give impressively up to date book presents?

I vowed not to do another gift guide like everyone else, but then I changed my mind. I decided to lend a helping hand to people who want to buy books as gifts, but also want to seem up to date and ‘with it’ by giving books that came out this year (and also hoping that the recipient is less up to date and hasn’t read these recent books yet).

This is not my top books of 2017 list. For starters, there’s still a month of 2017 to go, so I refuse to make any judgements until then. Instead, this is just some suggestions for who might like different books that came out this year.

  • For the beleaguered twentysomething: One of the vague sub- sub-genres I’ve noticed this year is the ‘twentysomething cannot cope with life, retreats to countryside or makes a bad life choice to reflect on how shit the world is’. Because art doesn’t imitate life at all. There’s A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume, which is exactly that description. Sally Rooney’s distinctive Conversations With Friends stays in the city, but very much captures this spirit. English Animals is about culture shock, love, and hipster taxidermy. And straying further away, I’ll Eat When I’m Dead by Barbara Bourland is the American Psycho for the social media world and shows the toxicity of fashion in these conditions.
  • For the person who likes to dip into things: What do you buy the person who has limited time to sit down with a huge tome? Sure, you could go for a novelty comedy book that requires no memory of previous plots, or maybe something more original. For short stories, Chris McQueer’s Hings offers the surreal, the drug-fuelled, and the downright weird. From the same publisher (404 Ink) you can offer intersectional essays about being a woman in the twenty first century with Nasty Women. Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward is modern and concise poetry that cuts deep and can be enjoyed by adults and teenagers.
  • For the character-focused reader: If you’re buying for someone who likes engrossing and quirky characters, there’s plenty of options from the past year. All The Good Things by Clare Fisher tells the story of a young woman in prison and how she ended up there. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman offers a surprisingly uplifting story of coping with trauma whilst seeing the world differently The Book of Luce by L.R. Fredericks is a weird tale of a gender defying rock star and the obsessive fans that surround them.
  • For the ‘dark and tense, but not actually crime’ fans: It’s a specific-sounding genre, I know, but there’s so many people who want dark and dramatic literary fiction. Offer them My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, about a girl called Turtle who has to fight to survive, or The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel, about a family with twisted secrets (and featuring an epigraph from Lolita, to suggest the tone). For the Shakespeare or The Secret History fans, there’s If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, about a group of actors who fall apart after one of them dies.
  • For the YA fans: Note that I didn’t say ‘for the teenagers’, because not only could teenagers enjoy other books on this list, but anyone can enjoy young adult books. Girlhood by Cat Clarke shows contemporary older teenage girls at a remote boarding school in Scotland and what happens when a new girl turns up who seems to be just like the protagonist. Stephanie Perkins’ There’s Someone Inside Your House is like tense modern Point Horror with a complicated main character, and One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus takes the concept of The Breakfast Club and spins it on its head in a story about death and secrets. For something a little lighter, there’s The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, about a girl who thinks she’s unlikeable and her sweet family.

Holiday Gift Books 2: The ‘Lighter-but-still-a-bit-cynical’ Read

2016 has been quite a year for most. The list of ‘negative things that happened in 2016’ is too long to fit here and also unnecessary, as undoubtably everywhere will be compiling lists as their ‘best of the year’ features quickly turn into ‘worst of the year’ features (my personal recommendation is to watch Charlie Brooker’s annual take on the year, 2016 Wipe, which if previous years are anything to go by, will be bitter and depressing, but with the kind of realistic hope possible from a cynical comedy take on events).

As gifts go, 2016 wouldn’t be great. Instead, here’s some lighter reads, but not those that are overly schmalzy, twee, or mundane. Books that offer a bit of a smile, hopefully, but also don’t patronise you by trying to claim that everything is rosy.

  • America Unchained by Dave Gorman – Gorman is a comedian who currently has a very good show airing on Dave (the channel, I know it’s confusing), but I first knew of him through his books. When recently rereading America Unchained, it was clear to me that his account of a challenge to get from coast to coast in America without using the big chain companies, a journey beset with problems and the signs of an unchained world quickly disappearing, is still relevant today. As well as this, it is touching and funny and provided me with a look at parts of America you don’t always see on TV.
  • ‘Campus Trilogy’ by David Lodge – This trilogy that aren’t quite a trilogy, namely Changing Places, Small World, and Nice Work, are novels set on university campuses in Britain and America, featuring a lot of jokes about the disheartening side of academia (bear in mind these are quite dated now so even more disheartening) and confusions between British people and the rest of the world, particularly the USA. Particularly good to buy for English students/ex-English students who will understand both the literary jokes and the questions of what the hell to do with an English degree.
  • Spectacles by Sue Perkins – I’m not usually a famous person autobiography person unless that person is a writer with a tendency to write themselves into their works anyway (Isherwood and Burgess, I’m looking at you), but my mum leant me this and having got into Bake Off this year, I thought I’d give it a go. It’s a funny memoir with lots of self-deprecation and stories about dogs. There’s also a strangely accurate description of what its like to go to Oxbridge and have people tell you to make sure you don’t end up ‘going posh’ by the experience.